In The Dark
I cringed and knocked on the door. I knew that this action put my physical well being at risk, and it may possibly be the last thing I ever did. However, I had accepted the risk when I took the job, and this was no time for cowardice.
"Bella, dear, the red light is on. Fuck off," Alice hissed at me from the other side of the door.
"Alice, you know that I take the sanctity of your darkroom very seriously, seeing as it is directly tied with my good health, but Esme is on the phone. She needs to know when you'll have the proofs from the festival."
"Oh, tell her that I'm finishing them now. I'll overnight them to her as soon as I'm done. Thanks, love," Alice cooed sweetly as I shook my head at her mood swings.
"Will do, please continue plotting to take over the world; I do know that's what you're really doing in there, you know." She gave me her best evil laugh, and I went back to my desk for the phone.
"She'll have them done any time now, and we'll get them there overnight for nine am. There shouldn't be any issues with meeting the deadline. Are they ok with the composites for the backgrounds of the posters?"
"Of course they are," Esme said, her voice full of pride. "They always love the work you girls do."
"Great, anything we can do to make your life easier is always a good thing," I said, laughing. "We seem to be gearing down on the workload, though. Is there a break in the release schedule?"
"Not exactly…" Esme trailed off.
Esme never trailed off. "Esme, what's wrong? Or are you just plotting again?"
"Nothing is wrong, Bella."
"And that leaves us with plotting. So, what'cha plotting, Esme?" I sang into the phone as I doodled circles on my desk blotter.
"You're so suspicious of me; what have I ever done to make you so jaded?" She pulled out her hurt and innocent voice, at which point I knew she had something big up her sleeve.
"I think you guys should come up and meet me for dinner. How is your schedule next week?"
"Well, since you are a master schemer and probably have every level of this planned out down to our hotel booking, you know full well that next week is completely open for us."
"Well, it is polite to ask, Bella."
"Of course it is, Esme," I said with a chuckle. "How long are we staying, what are we doing, and what do we need to bring?"
"You're coming up to meet with me for dinner on Monday. You have an appointment with a new client on Wednesday. After that, we'll see how it goes, but I’m guessing about a week or so. Bring your portfolio and make sure you update it with the festival stuff you just did. You'll also want to prepare a proposal for these new clients."
I jotted down notes as Esme went through her list. "Ok, who’s the new client, and what kind of tour is it? How many weeks?"
"Don't worry about any of that. Just do up a generic proposal. You can tweak it after we talk on Monday."
"But… Esme… I…"
"Close your mouth, Bella. I know you'd plan your bathroom breaks if you could, but you're going to have to wing it a bit on this one."
"I would not plan my bathroom breaks," I said acidly.
She laughed at me. "Fill Alice in, and let me know by the end of the day if it’s is going to be a problem. I'll mail you the details of your hotel."
"The creature is emerging from her cave as we speak. I'll let her know and get back to you with an email in a few minutes."
Alice raised an eyebrow at me as I hung up. "Let me know what?"
I passed along the sketchy details Esme had given me.
"That's excellent! I love New York. I wonder if I can get in some shopping?"
"You're Alice, of course you can get in some shopping. If the entire city closed down and Godzilla attacked, you could still get in some shopping."
"Hmm, true." She pursed her lips and distractedly pondered my monitors. "Bella. move." She grabbed the back of my chair, launched me across the room, then flew to my keyboard.
"You know I am capable of moving myself. If you gave me a second, I would've given you my chair."
"I have to check something… and I'm right! Midnight Sun is playing in New York next week! Esme can hook us up. They are one of her bands, after all. Maybe our curse is finally lifting."
As long as Alice and I had been working for Esme's company, First Sight Management, we had yet to reap the most considerable benefit (as we saw it anyway). We were huge fans of Midnight Sun, their most successful band. Without fail, every time there was a concert in our area, we were somewhere else working on another tour. Alice and I had given up hope of ever seeing them live, and bitterly accepted our cursed fate. We had never overtly expressed our disappointment to Esme, but I think she knew anyway.
"Wait a minute, she wouldn't tell you the name of these new clients she was pimping us out to?" Alice frowned at me.
"No, but it can't be them, Alice. They must have their own people for this kind of stuff."
"It seems pretty coincidental to me. I think… no, I definitely have a feeling about this. A very good feeling!"
"Good feelings are good, we like good feelings. But maybe Esme is just going to give us a raise or something. If you don't get those proofs to her, however, she might not go through with whatever she's planning."
I knew enough not to question Alice's hunches; she was practically psychic. But there was good news, and then there was good news. Working with Midnight Sun would be beyond good news.
Alice called the courier for a pickup as I scanned her negatives into the computer. My mind wandered while I worked, and I found that her enthusiasm was becoming infectious. "Can you imagine? Not that I haven't loved everything we've done so far, but getting to work at one of their shows would be insane."
"I'd have to avoid jumping Jasper; that would be a definite downside," she said as she frowned thoughtfully.
Alice was in love with Midnight Sun's lead singer, Jasper Whitlock. He was tall, blonde, gorgeous, and had what Alice like to refer to as "an ass chiseled by God himself." Ok, it wasn't so much love as it was lust.
I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. "Leave it to you to take a situation like this and boil it down to that within two minutes."
"Right, because you wouldn't be entertaining any Edward fantasies as we worked." I directed my attention back to my desk, furiously searching for something I could do. My uncluttered desk failed me completely.
"There is nothing wrong with admiring a perfect specimen of the male form," I said, deciding to adopt a defensive stance.
So maybe Alice wasn't the only one in lust. But Edward Masen was eye candy of the gourmet variety. He radiated the perfect balance of bad boy and gentleman. Plus, he played piano for God's sake. Just playing the piano was enough for me. The fact that his fingers were so long and dexterous was strictly a bonus to my many fantasies…
"Bella, you're looking all hot and bothered… are you entertaining some fantasy right now, perhaps?" Alice shot me a knowing glance.
I coughed loudly. "So, about updating the portfolio… I was thinking of pulling these shows and adding these new ones to the video clips," I said, pulling up the files on my computer. "Plus, I really liked the layout we did for this tour book. I thought we should include pages 7 and 18. Possibly 19 as well. What do you think?"
Alice was, in every way but blood, my sister. We had started this small business after finishing University a few years ago. I fell into a couple of jobs with content generation for musicians and bands and became aware of the need for such things. We now traveled the country attending concerts and shows of all genres, collecting photographs, video, and doing anything else that would facilitate a connection between musicians and their fans. At 26, we had fallen into our dream job, and it was amazing.
We worked on our portfolio, deciding what our best work had been at the last festival. Within an hour, the changes had been decided and work split between us. The standard proposal we used to present our work to new clients was a bit trickier. In the past, we considered our audience and tailored our presentation accordingly. Rock fans were not the same as R&B fans, and although the same information was generally in there, the presentation was completely different.
"As I see it, we have three options," said Alice as we floundered back and forth on a plan for the third hour. "We can sit here and fret about it until we have to leave on Sunday, we can do up a generic presentation." We shuddered in tandem at that thought. "Or… we can just pretend we actually are presenting it to Midnight Sun and want to knock their socks off."
"But what if we do that, and she has something totally different in mind?" I said with worry in my voice.
"Well, think about it. If we really were presenting it to them, wouldn't it be the best one we ever did? I know it's farfetched that we'll actually get to do that, but I'm telling you I have a feeling this is going to be good and it's going to be big. We are going to want this to be our best work. I think this is the way to get there."
I thought about it, and really there was nothing to lose. It's not like Esme, or anyone else for that matter would know what we had in mind while we were putting it together. "You're right, let's do it that way."
We worked solidly until Friday night, tweaking and perfecting our parts. When we were done, I had to agree with Alice. Our portfolio had never looked better, and the presentation was visually stunning.
Saturday was earmarked for us to pack. Well, I spent an hour in the morning packing, then sat in Alice's room and watched as she debated every piece of clothing and pair of shoes she might need for any given situation.
Despite the anticipation, Sunday morning came in record time, and we found ourselves loaded up and in the car, getting comfortable for the drive to the Big Apple. We were settling into our road trip playlist when Alice told me that she had every minute of Monday planned, up to dinner with Esme. I was laughing until she handed me her printed schedule, complete with route information from store to store.
"You know, I think Esme only reserved one table at the restaurant. Where are all your bags going to sit?" I teased.
"Oh, don't worry, I left time for us to go back to the hotel and freshen up," she said brightly. I flipped to the sixth page and saw that indeed she had.
"Of course you did, and Esme thinks I'm the one who's hung up on scheduling." I rolled my eyes at the passenger window.
"I only worry about scheduling the important stuff," Alice said sagely.
A couple of hours later, we were listening to one of our many ‘road trip’ playlists. We had switched off driving and were currently singing along to the music at the top of our lungs. Music was one of the biggest keys to a successful road trip. Although I also loved driving up the coast in the spring. The trees were just starting to come back to life, and the green sea of new foliage was breathtaking. I turned the radio down and looked at Alice.
"Ok, you're going think this is entirely moronic, but I'm getting nervous."
She smiled at me.
"No, seriously, what if Midnight Sun is what Esme has planned, I mean…" I trailed off and shook my head.
"Esme has never pushed us too hard, Bella. If she is actually thinking of sending us out with them, then it's because she thinks we're ready for it. Besides, like you said, we don't even know what she's actually up to yet. Save your panic for tomorrow night."
"I'll get right on that," I muttered, readjusting the music.
On Monday, the promised shopping trip was everything I expected. I never understood how Alice could shop for hours and hours on end. It was as if she got more charged from each store. Either that, or she was sucking the energy straight from me because I was exhausted.
"Please, Alice. Let me sit down for five minutes," I begged. "Just five minutes so I can check to see that I still have feet."
She sighed a long-suffering sigh. "Oh, Bella, you're so dramatic. We've only been shopping since nine, and I did let you stop for lunch."
"It's four o'clock, Alice!"
"Quite obviously, I don't have one."
"Ok, I have a surprise for you if you're going to get all whiny on me…" I looked up, hopefully, as she continued. "I'm heading into this store here, and I'm going to be a while. I figured by this time you'd be getting a little emo, on me so I thought maybe you might want to go to MoMA—it's just a block over."
I squealed and hugged her in delight; she knew how much I loved the Museum of Modern Art. The last time we were in NYC, I didn't have time to go. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
"But," she said, and I froze as she continued. "I get to buy you an outfit for Wednesday's meeting."
I considered this; I would actually be pretty safe for this one. Alice and I were on the same page when it came to how we like to present ourselves at a first-time meeting, regardless of who the client was. At worst, I might end up in a skirt or a dress. "That sounds almost too easy," I said, wondering if there was a second part to this condition.
"You make it sound like I'm an unreasonable monster," she said as she huffed at me. "Go, before I change my mind. I'll meet you in the coffee shop there in an hour. We can take a break, then head back to the hotel and get ready to meet Esme at seven."
"See you there!" I called as I headed off, and she breezed into the store.
"Esme!" We both squealed as the petite woman came into view. She ran over to us and swept us up in tight hugs. Although we were in contact with Esme almost daily for work, it had been nearly a year since we'd seen her in person. Between our schedule touring and her long hours in the office, these kinds of meetings were rare.
In the three years that we had been working for First Sight Management, Esme had become like a mother to us. She was kind and caring by nature, and that took over as she watched out for us on the road. She always planned ahead for anything we might need and gave us a heads up when we were going to take on a particularly difficult manager or band member.
Bella had known her longer than I had. Esme approached Bella about a new kind of position she wanted to fill for her bands, and Bella had brought me on board, thinking that pairing our skill sets would work even better for what Esme had in mind.
"How have you ladies been? Was the festival ok? Did you have to deal with Charles much? He's a misogynistic prick, but we don't get to choose the staff when we're not running the festival."
I laughed. Esme always seemed to be out of breath and in a whirl, even when she was standing perfectly still. "The festival was fantastic. We took your warning and gave the festival director a wide berth. We didn't even have to talk to him. He just sat in production all day like that office chair was a throne. As long as we minimized our time in there, we had no problems."
She laughed. "Yeah, that's Charles. Sounds like he hasn't changed much."
"What about you, Esme? New bands? Projects? What's going on in the office?" Bella asked.
Esme updated us on the lives of her co-workers as the waiter took our drink orders and gave us menus. "We had to let Royce go. Well, not 'let go' so much as have him arrested. He was pulling some scheme with the bank accounts. Rosalie caught him at it. The accountants that are on it now think that it was found in time, and no one is out too much money, but it's a major headache. Luckily, he isn't the brightest bulb in the box," she said absently, rubbing her forehead.
"I never liked him," I said. "I don't know why—he just gave me the creeps."
"It was lucky that he didn't have a chance to do anything with his records at home before he was arrested. That was where they found the real evidence. As you can imagine, he wasn't exactly happy, I learned some new insults, and I deal with roadies daily!"
We all laughed, and the waiter came back with drinks and salads. Esme was starting on her salad as Bella finally lost patience.
"So, um Esme…" she started hesitantly.
"I'm impressed Bella, you lasted almost fifteen minutes!" she said, checking her watch. "You win, Alice."
"No fair with the timing and the betting!" Bella huffed at us as we laughed.
"Ok, ok. Let's get it over with. As you know, I've been impressed with your work. Not only do you outdo yourselves every time, but you also seem to be able to work with almost anyone, which is just as important. The very few complaints I've had were pretty transparent, and from managers I don't like anyway," she trilled.
I was a little surprised that she got complaints, but then I remembered the stunt I pulled on the tour manager a couple of tours back. "Colin was never actually able to prove that was me. Besides, he was a total dick. I was… I mean, whoever did it was totally justified, in my opinion!"
Esme chuckled into her wine as she took a drink. "Don't worry. I got the whole story from some other people, I know that the party in question was perfectly entitled."
This was just one of the many things I loved about Esme: she was fair. She knew the kind of crap we had to put up with from the crews and managers. We were young, female, and attractive. These three things didn't usually lend themselves to people instantly respecting us or taking us seriously. A lot of the people we ended up working with on the road were professionals who were good at their jobs, but every once in awhile, we had the joy of dealing with a real piece of work.
She also knew that if you didn't push back and just took the crap, you didn't get any respect, and that made getting anything done next to impossible. It was a fine line, but we had learned to walk it pretty deftly.
"Anyway, like I was saying, you two have really shown yourselves to be trustworthy and dependable. I don't have to worry about chasing loose ends down when I put you on a job, and I'm going to need that and probably more on this next project."
Bella and I were excited. I'm sure Esme noticed since we'd stopped breathing and all. The corner of her mouth twitched as she fought back a smile.
"Ok, so here's the rundown. It's a six-month tour that is starting in two weeks in Chicago. You'll be all over the country, West Coast to the central area, then back to the East Coast, working your way back to end in New York City. It's going to be a huge workload. I'll need content for the website, merch, publicity, and possibly some extras we'll need for digital distribution. There will be two buses, including one for the band, the manager, and a few of the techs. You'll be on the second bus with some of the crew and some extra people, who will be rotating on and off as they finish their prospective jobs with the tour. Basically, you'll be living out of the bus and hotel rooms for six months. I don't think I need to tell you guys anymore that it won't be glamorous. It will, however, be rewarding, and it will look amazing in your portfolio."
"Esme! Who?!" I said, a little too loudly. Some of the diners around us turned my way.
"Well, I've been working you guys up to this. You're wasted on my new bands now; they don't need all of the things you can do. So I want to put you on with our most popular band, Midnight Sun. I assume you know their stuff."
"Oh, yeah, we're familiar with it. We've followed their stuff for a while now. We're kinda fans." Bella smiled calmly as she took a bite of her pasta.
Kinda fans, I smirked internally. Still, I was impressed, she was rocking the calm façade.
"So, they've got a show tomorrow, I thought you might like to go and check out the set. Then between tomorrow morning and Wednesday afternoon, you can fine-tune your presentation for them."
Bella choked on her water.
"That is, of course, if you're interested. You might want to talk about it tonight and let me know tomorrow morning. I know it's all very last minute, but I was still putting it all together last week. I didn't want to say anything until I knew for sure," Esme said worriedly.
I took the lead while thumping Bella on the back as she tried to remaster the basics of breathing. "No, no, Esme, it's fine. Of course, we want to do it, no discussion necessary. You know Bella, she's just a little nervous about putting this all together on the fly."
Esme turned to Bella with a motherly look again. "You'll do fine, you always do!"
Bella nodded and gulped down more water.
"So then, we're a go on everything?" Esme questioned, looking between us.
"Definitely," we said together.
She laughed. "Ok then, for the show, doors are at eight. I couldn't get you great seats, it was too last minute. You're stuck with all the label folks in one of the balconies. You should still be able to get a good idea of their set and the feel of the crowd, though. I know you like to do your research. I'm not going have you meet the band tomorrow night. You know how it is with New York; everyone is sniffing around them, and their schedule is tight. Plus, I'd rather have you all meet on Wednesday when there are no distractions," she said, back into full work mode as she entered some details into her phone.
"Sounds good. We'll be ready, Esme. Thank you, really, you've been so good to us," Bella said, having recovered from her minor choking incident.
"You're going to be fantastic ladies, I just know it. They're going to absolutely love you!"
Bella and I managed to finish out the meal calmly, picking Esme's brain about anything specific we should include or exclude from our presentation. My head was screaming in excitement, and it was all I could do to stay still in my seat. I vaguely wondered if either one of us was going to sleep between now and Wednesday.